Hello. It’s been a while. Two years by my reckoning. The last two years have been well spent, traveling, eating, eating, traveling and some eating in between the traveling and the eating. The reason for my not-by-poplar-demand-return is that I was watching a great little docufilm called ‘Foodies: The Culinary Jet Set’ a while ago. It follows and studies a few members of the growing number of people who are spending increasing amounts of time and money on seeking out and eating at some of the worlds most exciting, finest, most exclusive, out of the way, extreme or just plain tasty restaurants. Having already visited at least half of the restaurants featured in the film, I could relate and realized that this film was as much about me as it was about them, just minus the private jets and parental sponsorship.
So I thought to myself, why not resurrect the old blog. I’ve a bit more time these days to write, and have a back catalogue of restaurants I’ve eaten at over the last two years as long as your arm, complete with photos. Whereas the blog before was more about my general idle ramblings about anything and everything that popped into my tiny mind, this time the intention is to be a bit more focused on the places that I have eaten, the food, the chefs, with the occasional lighthearted look at the world from the perspective of a traveling chef. I have set up a Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram account that you can also follow for a bit more of a day to day look at what I’m up to if you fancy. Links will be at the bottom of this entry. I’d like to try to build a bit of a readership so if you are feeling lovely and fancy liking my Facebook page, sharing this blog, retweeting stuff etc, I will be very grateful and will be giving out free cuddles as and when I see each of you.
So sit back, relax and enjoy my first restaurant review.
Ta very much,
L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon, Bangkok, 25/03/2016
I appreciate a strong brand, and along with CocaCola, Audi, David Beckham and McDonalds, Joel Robuchon is a strong brand. With at least 11 restaurants around the world and counting, and holding around 25 Michelin stars (I lost count at 25 and as I’m not writing for the Times, I’m not to worried about accuracy in this instance. He has a lot is my point) he is indeed a culinary heavyweight. I have visited a few of his outposts on a number of occasions in Monaco, London, Hong Kong, Macau and now Bangkok and have even met the man in person.
I have had varied experiences though, which I think is down to the obvious difficulties associated with trying to roll out such an exclusive and high-end brand worldwide. It is very hard to achieve the consistency you are looking for at a 2 michelin star level when having to train staff of varying nationalities and cultures. Opening a French restaurant in Monaco will clearly be less challenging than trying to do the same in Bangkok. There are quite a few French chefs on your doorstep in Monaco who already know how to cook that food to that standard whereas in Thailand this cannot be said. Please understand that this is not a criticism of Thai chefs and their cooking skills, I am just suggesting that they probably aren’t brought up at home watching their parents preparing cassoulet or torchon de foie gras but rather a more spicy but no less delicious cuisine.
But even though I’ve had varied experiences, I keep coming back, because generally I know what I’m going to get, and to what standard, just as occasionally I’ll grab a McDonalds (in my defense I only ever do this at 4am when everything else is shut and I’ve had a skin full, and the only way I know I’ve done this is by the deep feeling of self loathing I experience at two in the afternoon the following day as I wake up and look across the hotel room to see a half eaten Big Mac that has slid down the front of the 30” TV and settled forlornly on the writing desk after having been thrown there in disgust by me before I scream into the night “WHY!!!!” and cry myself to sleep).
I have had exceptional meals at L’Atelier de Robuchon but have also had cause to write complaint letters on two occasions. One such letter was written with such vitriol that I received a complete refund and an offer to return for a complimentary meal for two complete with champagne. I was proud of that letter. In my family we take great pride in writing a complaint letter and will happily and with joy in our hearts embark on a letter writing war of attrition until we get our 5p refund for the carrier bag we were mistakenly charged for at the supermarket because we know we are entitled to a free carrier bag to carry home our unwrapped loose seeds, flowers, prescription medication and live fish. My sister is truly world class at this and can bring a corporation quivering to it’s knees with a single well written paragraph.
I had no reason to write such a letter after my most recent visit to the restaurant in Bangkok but still probably won’t be writing a letter of congratulatory praise either. It was, well…meh (are the kids still saying that?).
I like the L’Atelier brand because although they are generally of a 2 michelin star standard and very French, they are also quite casual so you don’t feel like you are doing them a massive favour for being there and spending a few hundred quid. Also as a more often than not lone diner, I can almost always ring them up in the afternoon of a Friday or Saturday and get a table that evening because they all have counter top dining looking into the kitchen. So there is always a free single seat for me if I don’t mind squeezing in between the models and the rich guys showing off to the models, which I don’t. I enjoy very much sitting and listening to them chastising the staff because their rack of lamb has bones in it or the fish is the wrong shape. And counter top or kitchen table dining is great for a lone diner as you don’t look like quite as much of a sad case as you do sitting alone at a table for two in the main restaurant, weeping into the cheese course.
Anyway, lets crack on. The scene is set, I am sitting at the counter next to 30 other people enjoying a glass of bubbles while I peruse the menu. Tasting menu it is then. Predictably.
The bread is brought, which is both good and bad news. Good news because…well its bread isn’t it, and pretty good bread at that, although I would tentatively say not the freshest. But some of it has bacon inside it so who gives a shit? Bad news because they bring it before I have even ordered, so I am in serious danger of devouring the whole basket and filling my self up before so much as getting a sniff of a frogs leg (stereotype much?). I restrain myself and only have 4 or 5 rolls.
Next comes an amuse bouche of a light foie gras custard layered with a sweet reduction of something or other, probably sherry, and a parmesan foam, sitting along side some crisp quinoa, served on a plate that I think they went back in time to the 70’s for and robbed off my Mother. Perfectly ok.
Up next is a thin fillet of Scottish salmon topped with some Sologne Imperial caviar and served with a wasabi cream and what the waiter describes as crab and daikon ravioli. It’s a nice dish but my inner pedant is awakened from his light snooze at the idea that a dollop of crab-mayo sandwiched between two slices of pickled daikon should be described as a ‘ravioli’. I grit my teeth and continue heroically.
A dish of poached egg and shaved black truffle sitting atop a disk of crisped rice and finished with shaved Parmesan follows. Regarding black truffles or white truffles for that matter, they are definitely preaching to the unconverted with me. The smell of a white Alba truffle of course sends me into paroxysms of ecstasy (I would urge you not to try and picture that) and can’t be beat, but for me once it or its lesser cousin the black truffle is shaved and placed on a dish, I just don’t get it. The texture isn’t pleasant for me and the taste is pommelled to death by anything else on the plate, in this instance the parmesan. Chuck some truffle oil into the mix and it’s another story, then you can get that heady aroma coming through in every bite, but you can keep your fresh truffles thanks and I shall keep my money. My other issue with this dish is that once you put your fork through the poached egg it becomes one big gooey mess and any other textures brought to the party by the crisp rice are lost. It tastes fine though, but then fine is not what I’m looking for.
Foie gras is of course up next. We are in a French gaff after all. Perfectly good, served with roasted tangerine (for roasted see warmed slightly by being walked past a nearby radiator that was switched off half an hour ago and then placed in the fridge), rosemary and mango. Again, unfortunately, foie gras isn’t really my bag. I appreciate a good terrine or torchon but the seared variety is way too rich and fatty for my taste. That’s just me though, and what do I know. It has been cooked perfectly, just for the wrong person.
Artichokes followed by artichokes are next. It’s a good job that I think artichokes are quite nice. The first offering is titled on the menu very grandly as “L’artichaut” or for those of you who can’t read French “The artichoke”. Dun dun derrrr.
As you’ll be very well aware of from reading this, my grasp of grammar and spelling and sentence structure is appalling innit, but shouldn’t it be “An Artichoke”? Doesn’t “The Artichoke” suggest that I am about to consume the last remaining artichoke in the universe? I might be wrong, I probably am, its just a jelly-brained thought.
This first artichoke had been served with a chickpea cappuccino (I asked if I could have it with a chickpea skinny latte but was met with a disapproving look and silence, very French). Over all it was just ok again as a dish. Under-seasoned in my opinion and where the hearts of the artichoke were very well cooked, the stems had become tough and chewy and unpleasant once placed in my face hole.
The second artichoke dish was really a fish dish that the artichoke had stowed away on. Wild amadai or tile fish was perfectly cooked and the scales left on but fried so as to bristle up on the skin to a delicious crisp texture. The rest of the dish was, I’m afraid, again very underwhelming. The artichokes this time were not roasted but rather steamed or poached so the texture throughout was soft and pleasant but the “delicate” broth was delicate to the point of being almost tasteless making the dish as a whole very bland.
The meat course at Joel Robuchon offers a choice between one of his signature dishes of quail stuffed with foie gras and served with his epic and world famous mash, sorry pomme puree, or lamb cutlets again with the mash. You can’t get away from the mash. At some point of the menu at any of his restaurants around the world you will have to face the mash. Which is absolutely fine by me as his mash is very nice. In fact I would go as far as to say that it is some of the nicest mash I have ever tasted. It’s the butter you see. Rumor has it that the ratio of delicious buttery butter to potatoey potato is 50/50, and yes I said buttery butter because there is another kind of butter as those of you who have ever eaten in the majority of mid range French restaurants that serve it will attest to. There is cheesy, bland, flavourless, straight-out-the-fridge, depressing and unbuttery butter. We hate that butter.
Anyway I chose the ‘milk fed lamb’ (what else does a lamb get fed by it’s mother, coke-zero?), which was delicious and very lamby.
The cheese course is what saved the evening for me. They really can’t fuck that up. Soft, gooey, stinky Epoisse, Brie De Meaux and Reblochon along side a punchy blue that gave me the sort of dreams that would make your hair turn white. A lovely glass of sticky Pedro Ximenez didn’t hurt either.
Pudding time. “La Fraise” (the strawberry) is nice enough, served with a pink champagne granita, triffle style, in a little glass eggcup thingy.
Then a dessert that I have definitely never made myself or witnessed a few sous chefs make when very hung over. You see, what we have never done and would never do when we really want to go back to bed or it’s ten minutes until service and we still haven’t made a dessert yet is rifle through the cupboards, fridges and freezers and grab the bought in chocolate crispy balls, the packet of Oreo cookies from the crews mess, the crème Chantilly left over from the dessert two days ago and a tub of chocolate ice cream and throw it all together to create a dessert called ‘Le Chocolat Tendence’. It was nice enough but Oreo cookies….Really?
I’m reading this back and it strikes me that I’m being maybe overly critical but when paying upwards of £300 for a meal I feel I’m entitled.
The thing that really astonished me towards the end of the meal was that by the time I had got to my desserts at about ten o’clock, the place was pretty empty, maybe two couples left right at the other end of the long counter. Then a late booking of two came in, much to the horror of the kitchen brigade judging by their faces. And with perhaps 30 or 40 empty chairs at the counter where do you think they sat the new couple? You got it, right next to me. That’s just dumb.
I’ll keep eating at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon because the cooking is pretty solid and I like the places. But like the McDonalds at 4am, its quite possible I’ll regret it the next day.
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